Studying an Asian language - sink or swim?By Dr Ross Tapsell*
It can be hard to explain the importance of being able to communicate in another language.
More intelligent, eloquent and worldly people than me have tried and failed, but here’s my attempt.
It is a bit like explaining to someone who can’t swim, why they should learn to.
The prospect is a bit daunting, particularly if they haven’t learnt as a child.
And barring an emergency , if you try hard enough, you can get by on this earth without ever needing to jump in the ocean or swim in a lake.
Swimming is also taught at school, despite the fact we are not all going to be the next Ian Thorpe or Stephanie Rice.
Similarly, most of us aren’t going to end up as expert Indonesian linguists or completely fluent in Mandarin.
You can avoid travelling overseas to non-English speaking countries, or rely on everyone speaking English when you get there, or even on translation.
But this seems to me like relying on state-of-the-art life jackets, instead of learning to breaststroke.
Learning a language, like swimming, can be a life-changing experience.
And just as most people don’t regret learning to swim, most who have learnt another language and have used that language at some point in their lives don’t regret that either.
As more people learn an Asian language in the “Asian Century”, they’ll come to see the benefit of this skill, just as we eventually come to see the benefit of attending all those swimming classes.
* Dr Ross Tapsell is a lecturer at the Australian National University (ANU).
The ANU offers a wide selection of languages for study – many of which are not available at other universities in Australia.
For more information, visit the ANU Diploma of Languages webpage (students.anu.edu.au/think/dip-lang.php).
This is part of an article that was first published at theconversation.edu.au